Conversations About COVID-19: Lessons From the Past

4 mins read

This image was originally posted to Flickr by PTICA10 at It is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

The younger population is the latest demographic being targeted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The CDC and many states are reporting alarming numbers as the virus gains a foothold in the nation’s youth. While many may weather the virus easier than their older family members, COVID-19 can do permanent damage. Perhaps my story will be a cautionary tale. 

As a teen, I contracted a virus known then as the swine flu. I was sicker than I’d ever been and missed a month of school before my fever finally broke. I thought I was weak from being in bed for so long, but my strength didn’t return. After two weeks I still couldn’t stand without assistance. couldn’t walk, and couldn’t raise my arms. The flu had attacked my nerves, and eventually I was diagnosed with Guillain-barré Syndrome (GBS), which was a direct result of the flu. 

I regained partial functionality but my daily routine in high school was challenging. I couldn’t climb stairs on my own. I couldn’t participate in gym or sports. I was late to every class. At that age, the last thing you want is to arrive after the bell and shuffle your way to the only seat remaining – in the front of the class. GBS also affected my social life because I quite literally couldn’t keep up. 

College brought similar challenges. I couldn’t make it across campus on time and had to choose classes based on their proximity to each other. A backpack weighted down with books was a nightmare. My dorm had about 25 cement steps leading up to its entry. I did my best to only tackle those stairs once each day, which meant managing my schedule carefully. I remember fire drills when I couldn’t descend the stairs from the seventh floor.

This weakness is something I’ve carried into adulthood. On my wedding day I had flats on under my gown. At the reception I heard my new husband whisper to his father, “Be careful, she struggles with balance.” Later, being pregnant proved difficult and picking up my children was nearly impossible. I couldn’t run with them on the playground or take them on outings that required careful supervision and fast reflexes. Even loading them into car seats turned into a production. 

Despite these issues, I’ve compensated well, am incredibly happy and know how lucky I am. This article isn’t written as a complaint. Rather, it’s simply to share that a virus can have long-lasting effects. 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom stated that some young people “think they are invincible but don’t feel it’s going to impact them and if it does, it’s not a big burden.” I always felt invincible. Until suddenly I didn’t. If wearing a mask would have kept me or someone I loved  from contracting the flu, well, it would have been an easy decision. Mask up and stay socially distant. You may be thankful you did.

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